Blood pounding in your ears, you push to your feet and sway slightly from side to side. As you stare down at your abandoned shield, arrows continue to fall like deadly metal raindrops all around you. You look up at the approaching army, then at the dead and dying men and boys you so foolishly led to this killing field. Your sword is heavy in your hand, its tip angling downward under the weight of the souls it has stolen.
“Enough,” you declare but no heads turn. “Enough!” you roar but still no one hears you over the ringing clashes of swords and the moans of the mortally wounded.
You turn to your left and begin to walk toward the distant woods, the tip of your sword raking the ground behind you as though you’ve been transported back to the farm. But your son does not haunt your footsteps, dropping seeds into the exposed earth. Instead of water it fills with blood. Perhaps an arrow or two lands in the excavated earth but you do not look back to check.
The wound in your leg slows your steps but not as much as the sword. You come to a stumbling halt and look down on it, tears blurring its sharpened edge into wet, wavy lines. With a jolt you realize that you do not need it anymore. You are done fighting for a capricious king. You are done with the senseless bloodshed. The men and women he has deemed his enemies are no longer yours.
But still you are reluctant to let it fall from your bloody fingers. It has been your steadfast companion for nearly half of your years on this war torn planet. It is an old friend who has never let you down. It was to be passed on to your son once he had grown strong enough to wield it.
“But I do not want this life for him,” you whisper before releasing your grip and letting it fall to the ground like a tree felled by an axe blow. Deaf to the sounds of battle around you, you linger to bid it a reluctant farewell.
The scream of an arrow as it flies mere inches away from your right ear snaps you out of your stupor. Looking up once more you see that your enemy… no. No longer must they carry that moniker. No more will the place of a man’s birth decide whether they are your friend or foe, nor will the temper of a king. Though this is your new truth, it is not yet theirs. They have drawn much closer now and another flurry of arrows stabbing into the earth around you urges you to continue your lumbering progress toward the woods.
Your men are still too busy fighting, too busy dying, to notice your betrayal and you are guilt ridden and relieved at the same time. You spare another glance for the army that has laid waste to all that you were and a pathetic, weaselling hope fills your chest. The woods are within reach. You are going to make it. Its green, living scent begins to replace the brown, dying stench you are leaving behind.
But then a lone man steps from the woods, a massive black wooden bow held easily in his right hand and a lethal silver arrow dangling in his left. As tall as a horse, a thick red beard adorns his pale face, matching the unruly hair atop his head. His bare, muscular arms and chest are covered with dark tribal markings while dark brown breeches cling to his thick legs. His expression is unreadable, his pale blue eyes give no hint of his intentions.
You come to an uneasy stop, injured and utterly defenceless and at his mercy. As you stare at this strange apparition from the woods only one question echoes in your mind.
Is he friend, or is he foe?